There’s no denying that with Danica Patrick comes a buzz, created by her popularity in the IndyCar Series and her appearances for sponsor GoDaddy.com. The hope among NASCAR executives and tracks is that her full-time presence in the NASCAR Nationwide Series and part-time in the Sprint Cup Series will spark curiosity among fans enough to get them to buy tickets.
Patrick’s Nationwide debut in the season-opening race at Daytona in February broke the record for the most-watched Nationwide Series race with ratings up 33 percent from the previous year.
Dover International Speedway (DIS) is just one track on the NASCAR circuit that has seen firsthand the effects of the attention Patrick brings with her to the sport.
In an interview with Gary Camp, Sr. director of Communications and Jason Anderson, director of Ticket Operations and Inside Sales for DIS, both said they noticed a slight increase in ticket sales during Patrick’s first visit to the track in September 2010, but it’s hard to know if this will continue.
“As a trend in general what we’re seeing is that folks are just waiting longer to purchase their tickets,” Camp told TicketNews. “They’re waiting a bit more and buying at the gate, watching the weather, making some decisions later than they used to so it’s hard to know in advance what the end result will be on the ticket side.”
Over the past couple of seasons, NASCAR ticket sales have been slow, with several races that used to sell out a year or more in advance now seeing empty seats.
In a phone interview with Senior VP of NASCAR, Steve O’Donnell, he explained that while Patrick comes to NASCAR with a built-in fan base, her arrival also presents an opportunity to attract fans of other sports as well as a younger, and specifically female, demographic.
Everyone has their own opinion on Patrick’s move to NASCAR, but there’s one thing that racing executives seem to be in agreement about and that is Patrick must be competitive to maintain a NASCAR following and impact ticket sales.
Fielding the No. 7 GoDaddy.com car for JR Motorsports, Patrick will continue to drive for the team in 2012. She will also run limited races in the Sprint Cup Series for Stewart-Haas Racing before making her move to this series full-time in 2013.
In the 2010 season, Patrick ran 13 Nationwide Series races and posted a best finish of 19th. This season she has one top-five and three top-10s including a finish of 4th at Las Vegas, the highest finish by a female.
Since her debut, Patrick has shown improvement, something Camp and Anderson are hoping will continue into next season, helping to create storylines and maintain interest in Patrick prior to the spring weekend at Dover.
“We need to learn from Danica,” Camp said. “Lots of different storylines, personalities and elements are going to make people want to come out and see a race.”
O’Donnell explained that the reaction in response to Patrick’s decision to race in the circuit full-time has been overwhelmingly positive.
“At the end of the day it’s about the performance on the racetrack and she’s proven she can do that,” said O’Donnell. “People want to come see good racing and we’re very hopeful that she’s one of the drivers that will compete for a championship and if you’ve got a great championship battle next year that’s going to help spur ticket sales everywhere.”